I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Eve. I don’t like to be told when to be festive and merry based on the calendar. I don’t like driving when there are so many drunks on the road. (My friends, once heavy drinkers now in recovery, refer to December 31 as “amateur night.”) But I do like that it signals the coming end of the holiday season. And I like my own traditions that I follow on the last night of each year. As I used to do with my friend Nick and his parents, I jump off the couch into the new year at exactly midnight (if I’m still awake.) I write down a list of resentments -- against people, places, things -- and throw the list into the fireplace before midnight, hoping that these won’t follow me into the new year. Lately my lists have mostly contained things about myself that I’d like to shed. I guess that’s progress.
December 30, 2012
I was amazed the first time I entered La Fromagerie 31 in the 7eme of Paris. So many cheeses, so many! (This photo shows barely one-tenth of the shop.) Fortunately, they pack things to go. In fact, to go home with me back to Boston. And also fortunately, the shop has a small dining area off to the side where Nick and I enjoyed a lunch of some soup and a sampler plate (one each) with seven different cheeses...plus some extra requests to try. Cheap, no. Good, but of course.
December 29, 2012
A birthday gift. I was walking from the Charles/MGH Red Line stop over to a meeting at Park Street and decided to detour by the Frog Pond skating rink. It was just after sunset, the lights in surrounding offices and the lights around the rink trying to compensate. I took some photos. And then, this couple asked me to take their picture, saying “You look like you know what you’re doing.” Jamie gave me her camera-phone and I proceeded to take three (count ‘em) photos of her and Jermain’s shoes. How did that happen? We laughed, tried again, the same results. So I switched to my camera, and here’s what I got. A brief moment, some laughs, some conversation, strangers who meet for an instant, connect, then go on their own ways. A reminder of one of the pleasures of being human. A birthday gift.
December 28, 2012
What is it about fried seafood that makes it so, so good? Seen here, a combo plate at Morse Fish, the oldest fish market in Boston. This extremely casual fish store and fry-up in the city’s South End has been serving up plates of deep-fried goodness for over a century. (Its remaining firmly in place since 1903 as the neighborhood storefronts all around it have become gentrified and somewhat chic is a testament to the freshness of its fish, the loyalty of its following.) Morse Fish used to be a regular stop for me in younger days, but somehow, as I moved further from town, it slipped from memory. Until last year. When my friend James asked me where I’d like to have an easy “on-the-day” birthday dinner, it didn’t take me long to decide. A mixed two-way combo special of calamari and clam strips, accompanied by french fries (hidden beneath), tartar sauce and cole slaw, all for the low-low price of $10.95. Mmmm. Thank you, James.
December 27, 2012
On our way to hear a student concert at the Barcelona Conservatory, we decided to have a quick, early dinner at our favorite tapas bar in the Eixample neighborhood, Tapas, 24. I’ve written before about how good the food is here, how the chef offers his own personal spin on classic tapas like fried anchovies and patatas bravas. But another thing that distinguishes the place is its wonderful spin on utilitarian design. Just look at this pop-top can lid on which the waiter delivers your bill. Nice touch.
December 26, 2012
There were a few things I noticed this time in Venice that had escaped me on earlier trips. One was a late-evening delivery from a food co-op or produce supplier. He brought his boat up to the side of a small canal and called out the customers’ names, handing up bags as each person approached. Another was the way garbage was collected from people’s homes, as seen here. Tied up and suspended from a window grate, a doorknob, something, the bags would be retrieved by the local garbage collector. Eventually.
December 25, 2012
Generally I don’t like the holidays. But I do make exceptions. Witness this bit of Christmas whimsy, a photo taken at an AIDS ACTION Committee winter fundraiser at which all of the hotline volunteers offered their services. I was assigned to be the photographer. Though for some reason I seem to have an inordinate number of photos of myself with Santa’s assistants. Oh, well. I always liked that shirt.
December 24, 2012
Christmas Eve. Family holiday traditions. Customarily, our family would have hors d’oeuvre and exchange gifts around 5pm. The fight would begin shortly afterwards. Guaranteed. When I was a teenager and could drive, I’d escape to my friend Nick’s house where Christmas Eve was a much different and much more enjoyable scene. Here I am (note the slipper-socks), meticulously applying each piece of tinsel, one by one, back when it was still made of thin sheets of metal, not mirrored plastic or acetate or whatever it’s made from now. (My maternal grandmother told me that when my mother was a girl, she would take a handful of tinsel and throw the whole thing at the tree. Not me. I took very seriously the word “icicles” on the box, and icicles dangle one by one.)
December 23, 2012
My Italian American friends Vinny and Linda avoid multicolored lights in their Christmas decorations (which are vast) because they think “it looks too buon natal’.” Whatever. Here’s a chic men’s clothing store on Bleeker Street in Manhattan that conveys the same sentiment in white lights and simple design. I love New York at Christmastime. Most (not all) people seem nicer. The stores and streets are prettier. And I love visiting my friend Nick, as I’ve done for many years now, and which I plan to do again this year.
December 22, 2012
Parking only for electric cars? No problem. Especially not in Monaco where I saw more electric cars for rent than I’d ever seen before. Twenty-five euros an hour. And there are charging stations all over the place, too. No wonder the principality is so very clean it’s almost scary.
December 21, 2012
I love Paris every moment, every moment of the year...even at Christmastime when the temperature can be warm and humid one day, freezing the next. But is the City of Light ever more beautiful than when it puts on all of its holiday jewelry, making the Champs Elysées here glitter even more than it usually does? One bit of advice: It may not be wise to stand in the middle of this busy avenue to take a photo of the Arc de Triomphe as I did. Still, I’m glad I did.
December 20, 2012
The ancient palace of the Emperor Diocletian still exists in various states of ruin throughout the Croatian city of Split that has grown up around (and in) it. A cafe’s patio will have a Corinthian column at its edge. A pastry shop shelters in the original palace walls. Arches and their supporting structures lean into (relatively) modern apartment buildings. The original reception hall to the palace is its best preserved section. Standing in it, looking up as here, I wondered what noble Roman leaders, what heros of antiquity had stood there before.
December 19, 2012
I love artichokes. And I’ve had them prepared every which way. But I’d never seen them grilled before. So I had to make a quick stop at the Universal Kiosk in Barcelona’s famed market, La Boqueria. Sliced in eighths, oiled, grilled, mounded on a big platter on the top of the counter, they called my name. And here’s my portion (of which I ate half and brought the rest to Jay who was having a picnic on the terrace of our hotel room.) It took me a few bites to realize that you have to trim off the tops of the tough outer leaves before eating the rest. Still, they were delicious, fresh as can be, and something I’m not likely to find again soon back home here in Boston.
December 18, 2012
The principality of Monaco is oh, so proper. Not like its rowdy Riviera neighbors Cannes and Saint-Tropez, where topless beaches abound. Oh, no. Monaco is tidy, very wealthy and very buttoned-up. Witness this warning to tourists. At first I thought it was banning men from walking around in their underwear, a regulation I’d be honor-bound to protest. Instead, unless you’re at the beach, they don’t want no bare-chested men, no bathing suits, even no walking barefoot. Pardonnez-moi? Do you know the way to Saint-Tropez?
December 17, 2012
A custom has begun to proliferate in Europe. Allegedly begun in France (but of course!), it’s spread to other countries, Italy being a natural. Young lovers write their names on padlocks and then click them onto bridges, locking their love in place for ever and ever. My friend Kevin sent back photos from his seeing such "love locks" in Paris last year. Here’s a few that I saw in Venice a few months ago. Come on, Americans, get with the program!
December 16, 2012
Here are two staples of Barcelona tapas classics: pa àmb tomaquet (toasted bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil) and boquerones (fried anchovies.) The first is presented in a pretty straightforward fashion. The second, no. While most places dish out a pile of small floured and fried fish, hipster-chic Tapas, 24 ups the ante by filleting the anchovies, spreading them open, frying them, serving them on a rolled up sushi mat. (For a more traditional approach, click here to see how a gritty Barceloneta bar served us their boquerones.)
December 15, 2012
When my father came to visit me in Cambridge, MA, he arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport on a frigid November day wearing a green “silk” golf jacket with, I think, some sports logo on it. It was both too much and not enough. I wound up loaning him a down jacket (seen here) for the duration of his visit, a high point of which for him was our trip to the John F. Kennedy Library. When I wanted to take his picture beneath a JFK quote, I asked him to stand as you see him doing here. No problem. Now, years later as I look at him in this pose, I wonder if we had more in common than I thought when he was alive. Today is his birthday; he would have been 96 today. Yikes!
December 14, 2012
When Jay and I started to take pictures of the artichokes (they had long stems!), this nice vendor started to laugh at us. Then she laughed with us as we explained that negli stati uniti you don’t find artichokes with such long stems. I remembered that there is a special seasonal green found in Rome in late October/early November called puntarelle. So I asked. “Certo,” she said and pointed out the curly washed and cut greens in the tub to the right, all ready to eat in a salad. Purtroppo, I told her, we’re on a boat with no kitchen to use. Too bad, too, because look at those beautiful local zucchini (with flowers attached!) that could be had for one euro a kilo!
December 13, 2012
One morning, I was drinking coffee, reading a book on deck, and a man who didn’t look like an American walked by. I said hello, he answered, and when I detected an accent, I asked him in Spanish where he was from. Because I spoke some Spanish, Wladimir joined me and started talking a mile a minute. A friendship was born. He said no one else on the ship spoke Spanish and that he spoke no English. When I told him I’d seen a woman with very short hair speaking Spanish, he said, “That’s my wife.” Ingrid spoke some English, and with the Spanish that Jay and I speak, we all managed and had a great time. They’re from Venezuela, both anesthesiologists. She’s afraid of cats but has a pit bull terrier that doesn’t like to leave their patio. You learn interesting things about fascinating and friendly people you meet on a cruise. And I sure hope these two remain in our lives. (Sadly, I seem to have misplaced their email addresses.)
December 12, 2012
Rome? Athens? Carthage? Nope, it’s Croatia. Pula, to be more precise, the site of some of the best preserved Roman ruins in Europe outside of Rome. Here’s a view of the outstanding amphitheater, smack dab in the center of town, traffic circling, just like in the Eternal Città. The structure is still used for concerts and, in summer, for film screenings. Nearby stands the remarkable Temple of Augustus, the steps of which were casually providing shaded seating for some coffee-drinking shoppers when we walked by.
December 11, 2012
December 10, 2012
Oh, those French. Their approach to the basic food groups is so, well, basic. Milk, butter, eggs. Nothing wrong with that. Or with the wine seen through this shop window in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The Special K? Maybe not such a great idea. But then again, the French adore Jerry Lewis, something I’ve never been able to understand.
December 9, 2012
Who hasn’t had a bad experience trying to eat a decent meal or even a decent snack in an airport? Yes, things have improved somewhat in the more cosmopolitan hubs, but really.... Last year, leaving Rome’s Fiumicino airport, we opted for lunch at the newly opened outlet of chic Obikà, famed for its selections of fresh mozzarella. Disaster. Not the food, the service. We had allowed two hours for lunch and wound up helping the inattentive waiter figure out the bill at the register and then racing to our flight. This time, a good choice. Tapas. Lizarran: “Basque” fast food, nothing too fancy. No wait staff involved. We selected our pinchos (potato/ham croquette, tortilla española, chorizo, etc.), paid, sat down and ate. (When Jay ordered a beer and opted for large over small, it appeared on our check as “1 Feel Good.”)
December 8, 2012
Art. Rhythm. Community. All three come together in this barrio in the suburbs of Habana, not far from the heavily guarded compound where Fidel lives. The dream and creation of artist José Fuster and his neighbors, it’s an eye-opening wonder these few square blocks where people have pulled together to decorate their homes, their fences, walls, sidewalks with bits of mosaic. Imagine living in this world. Jarring. Harmonious.
December 7, 2012
Because my good friend Nick is a pastry chef, I feel a certain obligation, when I’m on a trip, to search out and try every new confection that isn’t nailed down. Witness this selection at Ernest, a wonderful patisserie in Cannes that Nick actually told me about before my visit. Faced with all of this temptation, what did I wind up taking? Only this photo. Honest.
December 6, 2012
What’s wrong with this picture? Here along the fabled Passeig de Gràcia, home to the chicest shops in the Catalan capital, as well as some of Gaudí’s most celebrated architectural wonders, this. The master’s awe-inspiring Casa Batlló just across the street from Mickey D’s. Is nothing sacred?
December 5, 2012
Jay likes this photo of himself. Often given to superlatives, in fact he says it is his favorite picture of himself. Of course, it’s hard to beat the setting along the Giudecca canal with Venice spread out across the background. This was taken after an all-night flight from Boston to Zurich, changing planes to Venice, and then an exciting one-and-one-half-hour scenic boat ride from the airport to our lodgings on Giudecca. Usually Jay is making a face in photos, thereby guaranteeing an unsatisfactory result. Maybe just making sure that he is always sleep-deprived is the key to photographic success.
December 4, 2012
María. This woman has seen it all. She’s lived here in her reclaimed rainforest community through the extremes of the Batista regime. Seen the “triumph of the Revolution” come with Fidel, embraced it. Then maybe, oh, resigned herself to the changes she’s witnessed over the fifty years of “Socialismo o Muerte.” Now she welcomes busloads of tourists into her small home, chats with those who speak Spanish, sells them coffee, bids them farewell. Does she think about what kind of life her grandson will have, I wonder, as the fabric of Castro’s revolution begins to show some wear?
December 3, 2012
When I’m asked what is my favorite place that I’ve visited, I usually say, honestly, that every place has something special about it, that I’ve enjoyed all of my travels. But the other day, I decided to seriously consider the question. And I realized that the two places that I longed to visit for a long, long time before I actually got there -- Istanbul and Cuba -- are right up there. When I arrived in Istanbul for the first time, seeing the mosques and minarets from the plane as we landed, was a very emotional moment for me. And then, when I was walking through the fabled city, I felt as though I’d been there before, maybe in a past life. Havana, still forbidden to so many of us here in the US of A, welcomed me in a way I’d never expected. I felt, finally, so blessed to be there. I want to go back so badly, but it’s even tougher now than it was a year ago. Maybe soon...
December 2, 2012
After a long day’s exploring the backstreets and non-touristed neighborhoods of this small port city, what a pleasure to intuit my way back to the harbor as dusk approached and to see the Wind Surf, our home for two weeks, resting there, waiting for me. A magnificent ship with five bright white sails that unfurl when wind conditions warrant, it holds only some 300 guests, just enough to feel intimate, no lines, no waiting for anything. And look at that autumn Italian sky. No wonder the skies in all those old Italian paintings look as beautiful as they do.
December 1, 2012
Something to admire. Something to rake up. Wait, you’re both right! And this year, the glorious splendor that is autumn in New England seems to be sticking around a bit longer than usual. Especially these jewels on the corner of my block. A few more cold nights, some stiff breezes and it will all be a memory. But a beautiful one.
November 30, 2012
The cruise ships in the harbor of this small, mountain-surrounded town did nothing to discourage this local fisherman from doing what he must do everyday. Taking his small rowboat out, returning with the daily catch for the harborside market. So peaceful this watery scene, the whole town really, tucked away as it is at the end of a twisty series of inlets, best accessible by boat, hidden and safe for centuries.
November 29, 2012
I met my friend Antonio in 1984 when I traveled to Italy solo and sought out the company of many of the mail artists I’d corresponded with for years. He was living in Lucca, where he still lives now, about a hour’s drive from Portovenere where our ship arrived on Halloween. Antonio generously drove to meet us there, the first time I’d seen him in 25 years. He’s now married, the father of two children, still pursuing his passion for illustration and cartoons. He knew Portovenere and showed us around the small town, up to an old stone church lit by candles, through the main street with its various shops offering samples of the local Ligurian pesto smeared on bread to entice passing shoppers. A short visit, but one that reminded me how friendships endure in spite of years and distance. It was as if no time had passed at all; we picked up where we’d left off in 1988. Ciao, Antonio, and grazie mille.
November 28, 2012
Before I went to Croatia, my Dalmatian friend Marin told me that his hometown of Split was a hodgepodge of different architectural styles ranging from Roman, through medieval and Renaissance to whatever. Dubrovnik, he said, was all of a piece. He was right. All polished stone, golden in the sunlight. Bombed and restored. Enchanting. Especially so early in the day, not yet packed with tourists. Like us. And like this young family, enjoying the open spaces before the busloads arrive.
November 27, 2012
You can spot the locals easily in Kotor. They’re the ones not looking up. They’ve grown up around these peaks. The rest of us? Well, it’s hard not to peer skyward in this small port town surrounded by mountains. Comparisons have often been made to Norwegian fjords, such is the grandeur of the cliffs that drop to the water’s edge. And when you’re in Kotor, and you do look up, here is one of the beautiful sights you’re likely to see. High atop the city, this monastery, and further up, a glimpse of the fortress walls that have protected the territory for centuries and are now a major tourist hiking route. We stayed harborside.
November 26, 2012
When the seas were too rough for us to approach Capri, our ship’s captain opted wisely to head instead to the more sheltered port of Ponza, an island further north, closer to Rome. A bustling summer vacation spot that’s packed with Romans escaping the city’s heat, Ponza was very sleepy and low-key on the off-season cloudy Sunday we set foot on shore. And that was fine with me. Fewer people to get in the way of a lazy hike past its Necco-colored houses, its narrow streets and staircases leading up to nowhere and back again. The sound of Sunday’s soccer game on a TV. A cat wandering by. A dog barking in the distance.
November 25, 2012
When we were in Messina a year ago, one of the first things I wanted to do was to try an authentic Sicilian version of the arancini I’d enjoyed for years in Boston’s North End. Mission accomplished. On our return this year, I again made a beeline to the student-filled emporium run by the Famulari brothers. Thirty -- count ’em -- variations available in this joint that my friend Michael has called the Baskin-Robbins of arancini. I opted for #1, the traditional rice ball, filled with tomato-meat sauce, peas and cheese. Michael said he’d go for #6, with a filling of fried eggplant, ricotta, tomato-meat sauce, peas, and dubbed (as is a local pasta/eggplant dish) the Norma, after the opera by native son of nearby Catania, Vincenzo Bellini.
November 24, 2012
One of the great experiences of our recent sailing with Windstar Cruises was a tour of the ship’s galley kitchens given by Executive Chef Klaus. A down-to-earth, very engaging and kind man, Chef K resembles not at all those driven, competitive types seen regularly on cable TV culinary slapdowns. He laughs. He generously answered questions, pointed out things (like the gi-normous mixers), let us take our time. One of the things I found most fascinating amid all the kitchen’s spotless stainless steel: this huge photo-chart of what the plates should look like before they’re delivered to patrons in the Wind Surf’s three dining rooms. Not exactly paint-by-numbers, but close.
November 23, 2012
As I walked the darkened streets of this Riviera town, a light ahead beckoned. A glitzy shop display. Was it Gucci? Louis Vuitton? One of them. And this in the window. Which product could it possibly be promoting? Doesn’t matter, does it? Something tells me that I would love the designer who came up with this idea. Or not.
November 22, 2012
The wonders of The Museum of Innocence continue to reveal themselves. First, the Orhan Pamuk novel itself, a 2009 gift from my friend Nick, an engrossing and obsessive read. Then a 2011 trip to Istanbul casually hoping to find the novel’s setting and, surprise!, finding the Museum itself, not yet ready to welcome the public. But, another surprise!, within minutes we found ourselves inside as the guests of visiting members of the German Bundestag. (Only later did we learn from our Hamburg-based pal Ernest that one member, Claudia Roth -- to whom we said the only thing we know in German: Do you want to dance with me? -- is one of the most important politicians in the country!) And now comes in the mail, this wonderful and wonder-filled gift from my friend Stephen -- the museum’s catalogue, filled with beautiful essays and photographs and, yes, inscribed. For these and the many gifts of friendship itself I’ve received in my lifetime, "thanks" hardly conveys the fullness of what I'm feeling. But on this day, well....
November 21, 2012
As I mentioned yesterday, I love to take pictures of what others are trying to photograph. And nothing pleases me more than to happen accidentally upon a professional photo session. I’ve encountered fashion shoots in Milan, weddings in Venice, television commercials and feature films in Rome’s Piazza Navona, many others. So I was delighted to wander aimlessly through the fascinating alleyways of Diocletian’s former palace within this Croatian city and -- surprise! -- a fashion project! Rather casual these Croatians when it comes to nuptials, no? Or is this supposed to be post-ceremony, the groom’s tuxedo all awry, the bride relaxing in her whipped cream pastry of a dress?
November 20, 2012
I love to take pictures of people taking pictures. Also love to take the same picture that another person nearby is trying to take. Especially another tourist. Like this one: Three Spanish women, posing like fashion models for their friend the photographer on a wonderfully foggy Venetian morning in front of the Basilica di San Marco. Sacred and profane. But which is which?
November 19, 2012
Oh, those Europeans. So cavalier in their approach to things that here in the US of A we address so puritanically. In Italy, for example, they serve wine with hospital meals. In France, dogs are allowed in restaurants. But here at the central market in Monaco (which, any Monégasque will remind you, is not in France), our friends the dogs must wait for their masters outside in this spot. Maybe dogs are only allowed near food after it’s been cooked? At least the vendors here should be happy the dogs don’t smoke. Or do they?
November 18, 2012
Our experience has been that cruises attract a rich roster of, shall we say, characters. Most are pretty benign. Some are even amusing, like this woman who sailed with us from Rome to Barcelona. Each day, with red (and I do mean red) hair expertly piled into place, she’d appear on deck with her Kindle, her beverage and her snazzy and distinctive outfits. One of our favorites, these pretty blinged-out toreador pants, a lynx jacket and (though she’s removed them here) sparkly high heels that seemed solar-powered such was their radiance. Seen in the background, Cannes, a city famed for its glitter and glam. “Gwen Verdon” (as we nicknamed her) gave it a run for its money.
November 17, 2012
The good news: Our ship pulled directly up to the dock in this glamorous capital on the French Riviera. So instead of taking a tender into town as we had to do when our boat was anchored offshore, we could simply walk. The less-good news (at least for Jay): The port was hosting an amusement park for the long holiday (November 1, All Saints’ Day) weekend. So a certain amount of maneuvering was necessary to navigate through the crowds of screaming children. At least they were screaming in French.
November 16, 2012
Beaded curtains over a shop’s front doorway are not all that uncommon in Italy. They allow the air to circulate, prevent insects from entering, provide a modicum of privacy. However I’d never seen one made of pasta before. Here’s Jay, who has always claimed not to like the penne rigate pasta shape, draped by a curtain made of just that. What happens when it rains, I wonder?
November 15, 2012
Do you remember those vocabulary tests from elementary school that used to present you with a list of terms and ask, “Which item doesn’t belong?” I thought of that question one recent afternoon as I passed the Bar Lo Spuntino near the docks of Portoferraio on Napoleon’s island of Elba.
November 14, 2012
One of the major attractions in this sunny Côte d’Azur seaside city is the Palais des Festivals, the auditorium that hosts the Cannes Film Festival each year. And surrounding it, embedded in the sidewalk, Cannes’s own version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. My goal? To find Pedro Almodóvar’s imprint. And here it is. Just look at that grip! Among the other international luminaries who’ve left their marks: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Paul Belmondo, Sophia Loren, Vanessa Redgrave, Jean Louis Trintignant, Charlotte Rampling, Claude Lelouch, Michelangelo Antonioni. (My only question: What is Cameron Diaz doing here?)
November 13, 2012
Part of the thrill of each cruise we take is the “sail away” from the initial port. Last year, Istanbul’s departure down the Bosphorus and into the Sea of Marmara seemed hard to beat. And then this year...leaving Venice from the Giudecca canal into the Venetian lagoon, passing the Piazza San Marco, the Lido and here behind me, Palladio’s Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, built as a votive church in the 16th century to thank God for sparing the city from a major outbreak of the plague. It’s difficult not to get emotional in the face of such majesty and beauty, in spite of the somewhat mawkish, brass-heavy musical selection played at full tilt over the ship’s sound system. As you can see from the sign, I decided to take refuge on the Star Deck.
November 12, 2012
Sure Pula has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world, a remarkable amphitheater that rivals the Coliseum, a Temple of Augustus that inspires awe. But our first stop in this fabled city? The fish market. Housed in a spanking new building that adjoins its fruit and vegetable counterpart, it features some two dozen vendors offering the freshest of the daily catch, including those octopi over on the right. I guess this vendor has seen it all before, so he can be excused for texting or whatever it is he’s doing. But these abundant markets are still thrilling for us, and we generally make them our first stop in every port we hit.